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The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Tunisians protest to demand release of jailed activist

Rania Amdouni is a 26-year-old LGBT rights campaigner often seen at pro-democracy protests. [Getty]

Date of publication: 6 March, 2021

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Rania Amdouni, a 26-year-old LGBT rights campaigner, has been the target of a smear campaign by police unions after taking part in protests against police repression.

Hundreds of protesters took to the streets of the Tunisian capital Saturday to demand the release of a gay rights and democracy activist sentenced to jail for insulting police officers.

Rania Amdouni, a 26-year-old LGBT rights campaigner often seen at pro-democracy protests, has been the target of a smear campaign by police unions after taking part in protests against police repression in January.

Her photo has been repeatedly posted on social media, particularly by police unions, accompanied by degrading comments and personal information, including her address.

On Thursday, her lawyer Amine Hadiji said she was sentenced to six months in prison for insulting officers as she tried to lodge a complaint over police intimidation.

Protesters gathered on the landmark Habib Bourguiba Avenue in central Tunis on Saturday demanding "freedom for Amdouni" and other Tunisians arrested during recent demonstrations.

They carried pictures of Amdouni and signs saying "never retreat, never surrender the resistance" and "freedom is a must".

"Rania is one of us and the sentence against her is unjust," a young protester who gave only her first name, Balqis, told AFP.

Protester Emna Sahli said demonstrators wanted the release of all Tunisians detained during protests over the past two months against police repression, poverty, corruption and unemployment.

"A large number of people have been arrested. This has never happened even during the dictatorship," Sahli said, referring to the autocratic rule of president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

The strongman was ousted a decade ago during the Arab Spring uprising that began in Tunisia before spreading to other regional countries, where leaders were also unseated.

Tunisia has often been praised as a rare success story for its democratic transition after its 2011 revolution.

But many Tunisians are angered at a political class seen as locked in power struggles and disconnected from the suffering of ordinary people, who are facing spiralling prices and steep unemployment.

More than 1,000 demonstrators who took to the streets earlier this year were detained, according to human rights groups, and although some have been released, others are still held in jail.

Saturday's protest was in response to a call to demonstrate by several opposition parties and civil society groups to denounce economic hardship.

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